Depression

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Depression

What is depression?

Depression, also identified as major depressive disorder, is a common mental illness estimated by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to affect almost 7% of American adults annually. It’s normal to feel low at times, but depression tends to exacerbate and lengthen these stretches of sadness for those affected. Depression affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts and may have a major impact on their day-to-day functions, causing a lack of interest in hobbies. Along with a variety of physical and mental issues, depression can range from mild to severe.

Are depression rates increasing?

Depression rates in America are on the rise, especially among the young teenage population. One study conducted by researchers at Columbia University found a significant rise in depression rates from 2005 to 2015, with rates for young teens increasing from 8.7% to 12.7%. Because of these drastic changes and how depression affects society as a whole, it’s important to have a good awareness of what depression is and what can be done to help treat the condition.

Are depression and anxiety related?

When it comes to anxiety and depression, many people with one experience bouts of the other at some point in their life. Anxiety and depression are commonly seen together and respond to similar treatments. It’s also possible to experience anxiety as a symptom of depression or to have depression triggered by an anxiety disorder.

What are the types of depression?

While this article focuses primarily on major depressive disorder, there are several other variations of depression that may impact an individual. Most respond to similar treatment options. The main types of depression are:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Seasonal depression
  • Postpartum depression
  • Psychotic depression

Causes

Is depression genetic?

Genetics is just one of many things that can lead to depression. Still, the degree of heritability for depression is quite high. In fact, some studies estimate a 40% chance of heritability when a first-degree relative is impacted by depression. However, there are several environmental and additional factors that contribute to depressive episodes.

What are the causes of depression?

As with many mental health conditions, there is no one set cause that can be pointed to as a catalyst for depression. Hormones, genetics, and other mental health conditions are all factors that play a role in the onset of depression. Some other risk factors include:

  • Gender (women are twice as likely to experience a depressive episode)
  • A family history of depression
  • A personal history of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Individual biochemistry
  • History of drug abuse
  • Personality and self-confidence level
  • A history of abuse or trauma

While these risk factors may make the outbreak of a depressive episode more likely, they are not the only factors to take into consideration. Financial and social status, age, and race play important roles as well.

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Symptoms

Can depression cause memory loss?

Yes, depression has been linked to memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness. It is associated with short-term memory loss but doesn’t affect long-term or procedural memory.

How does depression affect daily life?

When severe, depression has the potential to negatively impact every facet of your life, from interpersonal relationships to work to personal health. It affects the way you focus and interact with the world. Depression doesn’t just occur in your head; it has implications beyond you and likely will affect your partners, coworkers, relatives, and friends as well as you.

If left untreated, depression may cause problems in your personal and professional life.

How does depression affect the brain?

There is growing evidence that links depression with the loss of gray matter volume in certain parts of the brain. These areas include the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. This effect is especially prominent in those who are struggling with severe, long-term depression. There may also be other impacts on the physical brain. Many scientific studies are underway to determine precisely how depression can alter a person's brain.

What are the symptoms of depression?

The symptoms of depression can manifest in various ways, depending on your case and whether it is mild or severe. Here are some of the most common symptoms of depression:

  • A depressed, sad mood
  • Fluctuations in appetite
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Loss of interest in hobbies/activities
  • Anger issues/irritability
  • Fixation on past errors
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide/death

If you experience any of the above symptoms for a period of at least two weeks, it’s a good idea to see a mental health professional to discuss diagnosis and treatment. However, if you experience thoughts of suicide or death at any point, you should reach out to a mental health expert or local emergency number immediately.

Diagnosis

Where to get help for depression?

If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from depression, a mental health expert or doctor can help you take the steps toward diagnosis and treatment. Some other medical conditions, such as tumors and thyroid problems, may mimic symptoms of depression, so it’s essential to discuss your symptoms in detail with your doctor. In order to properly diagnose your condition, your doctor will ensure:

  • Symptoms have lasted for more than two weeks.
  • You demonstrate at least four other changes in your everyday functioning. This may include any symptoms from the list above, along with symptoms not listed, such as self-image issues.

Once you and your doctor have arrived at a diagnosis, you can begin looking into treatment options.

Treatment

Can depression be cured?

Fortunately, clinical depression can improve through several avenues of treatment. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that less than 50% of people worldwide are able and willing to seek treatment for their condition. Cost and time are barriers to proper treatment, but luckily a mixture of talk therapy and pharmaceuticals show marked results in individuals with depression.

What treatments are there for depression?

There are a few treatment options for depression, with the most effective generally accepted as a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Here is some more information to give you a better understanding of your treatment options:

  • Medication: Antidepressants can help balance your brain chemistry. While you may begin to notice effects within a few weeks, full impact only sets in after a few months of continued usage. For higher-risk patients, long-term medication use may help avoid future depressive episodes. Those with more moderate depression may decide with their doctor to stop taking medication several months after their initial symptoms improve.
  • Psychotherapy: Forms of talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have been shown to help improve symptoms of depression. By restructuring your negative thought patterns and addressing issues in your life, you may regain a sense of hope.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): Generally, this option is reserved for patients with severe depression who show no marked improvement when exposed to therapy and medication. 
  • Self-help: While it may seem difficult or impossible in the middle of a depressive episode, one of the best things you can do is treat your mind and body with care. You can do so by exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and avoiding depressants like alcohol. Exposing yourself to sunlight and fresh air may also be helpful.

Through these treatment methods, many individuals suffering from depression are finally able to experience relief. Contact your doctor or mental health professional if you or someone you know needs treatment for depression.

Information

Medically reviewed by:

Dr Roy Kedem, MD

Dr Zenon Andreou studied medicine at University College London, graduating in 2006. His postgraduate training was in hospitals in and around London and he trained for four years in Otolaryngology before completing his training in General practice

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